I can, if I work hard, envision the perfect church where everyone works together and loves each other as we are called to, enables each other to grow in faith, supports each other in the ministry of the church, seeks to bring out the best in each of its members, and never ever has a problem. I can envision it–but I also realize that if such a church existed, its wonder would be destroyed the moment the very first real human being joined. The theory of the church disappears quickly once people come on the scene.
And that is why, I believe, that God has provided the spiritual gifts to the church. He has provided the church with the skills and abilities that we need to help the church be what he designed it to be. As Paul describes it in I Corinthians 12.4-7:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. NIV
Paul obviously feels that the idea of the gifts is very important because he talks about them in I Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. The various passages mention a lot of gifts and while some treat the lists as together providing the complete list of spiritual gifts, I am not sure of that–these lists may only be examples and the available gifts might be more than these lists suggest.
However, working with the lists we have provides us with some pretty impressive gifts–and among them is the gift of leadership, mentioned in Romans 12.8. The church, as a group of people, will both want and need leadership and so God provides for that need and want by giving some people the gift of leadership.
Now, this is where I have a problem, a problem that I have had for a lot of years. The gift of leadership seems to have become the be-all and end-all of ministry gifts in our culture. There are more books, articles, seminars and websites on leadership that almost anything else. And it seems like our culture wants us to assume that the gift of leadership is automatically granted to the pastor of the church, which has some serious problems and repercussions.
I remember a broken pastor sitting on my office one time as I tried to help him put his life back together a bit. He slumped in the visitor chair, hung his head and mumbled, “I wanted to lead and they wouldn’t let me lead.” At that point, I was operating on two different tracks. I let him talk and helped him work out some of his feelings.
But I was also thinking about his context. He wanted to lead the church–but I knew that congregation and knew that they already had some very gifted and capable leaders and really didn’t need another one. They did need someone to provide pastoral care and appropriate teaching but really didn’t need another leader, especially a leader who primary gift wasn’t leadership but pastoral care.
I am a pastor and a teacher but I am not a particularly gifted leader. As a pastor, I do at times have to provide leadership but most congregations I have served has had better leaders than me, leaders who know God’s direction for the church and whose gifts are recognized by the congregation. I don’t need to compete with them for their job–things work best for the church when I follow my gifts and they follow theirs.
The church, any church, needs leaders. But it also needs pastors, teachers, administrators, musicians, accountants and so on. God, in his wisdom and grace, has provided the gifts that the church needs and the wise congregation carefully and prayerfully seeks the leading of the Spirit to get the right person with the right gift in the right place at the right time. And that is a formula for church health whether the church is three believing friends meeting at a coffee shop now and then or a huge mega church with a staff larger that my combined congregations.
Anytime the church or part of the church begins to make one gift more important or desired than the others, there is bound to be trouble. When all the gifts are in balance, the church works well.
May the peace of God be with you.